Have you noticed that the fear industry is booming at the moment? These are good days for things like suspicion, cynicism and gloom. They prey on people’s worst instincts, creating an atmosphere that is thick with the toxicity of distrust. It’s contagion blows into key aspects of society including politics, media and education, and it spreads confusion over a hurting nation. Church is not exempt from it. If you are the type of person whose disposition leans more towards negativism, then the sinister climate that hangs overhead will simply encourage unbelief.
Personally though, I’m resisting it. In fact, I find myself battling to protect against a pessimistic default. It could be the easiest thing for me to slip into a downward spiral of doom and despair. That’s why I choose my friends very carefully. It is never helpful to keep company with a vibe that panders to the prevailing culture and rolls with it’s hateful jibes. Better to acquaint with faith than fear.
Fear feeds negative culture and starves faith of it’s vitality. Religion loves fear because it provides an opportunity to manipulate and control people. That’s why Jesus reserved his most ferocious words for the religious establishment of his day. They thrived off the power that fear afforded them, playing on people’s anxieties with subtle yet brutal precision. The Pharisees hatred of Jesus was venomous because Jesus exposed their hypocritical legalism and preached a message of freedom instead. His word hasn’t changed. But neither has the spirit of religion.
When we understand the difference between religion and relationship, it changes everything. One controls you. The other empowers you. One holds you back. The other releases you into your God given potential. One leads to hate while the other to love. Interestingly, Jesus was never into religion. His message was totally relational. He came to set us free from the grip of fear, and into the loving embrace of God’s amazing grace.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul says ‘God has not given us a spirit of fear’ (2 Timothy 1:7). This verse is a massive statement. It tells us something about the culture that God wants us to carry in our everyday lives, and which changes the atmosphere around us. It is FearLESS, not fearful. It is FaithFUL, not faithless. The threat of fear can only be expelled by the power of love. That’s why the bible teaches us that ‘love drives out fear‘ (1 John 4:18).
Developing great people skills is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself & others in your life. When you learn to relate well to people, they’ll always want to be in your company. That’s exactly what happened with Jesus. Thousands flocked to be around him because there was something about this man which made sense. He could converse with anybody…no-matter who they were or where they were from. We could learn a thing or two from him!
Here are 7 things to think about developing so you can excel in the art of conversation (they’re in no particular order)…
1) Seek to understand people
People will forget what you say, but they’ll never forget how you made them feel. When they ‘feel’ understood, you create a connection with them that makes it far easier to build a meaningful friendship. It causes conversation to flow much easier.
2) Think ahead
Even before you meet other people, think ahead to the kind of questions you will ask them. It’s the lack of forward thinking that often stunts conversation and makes it difficult to engage with others.
3) Avoid awkwardness
Long silences and uncomfortable body language are all excruciatingly awful. They’re also totally unnecessary. Be open. Be friendly. Smile. Show initiative. Take interest. Ask questions. Think ahead (remember the previous point).
4) Don’t be too Intense
Just because you might see yourself as a ‘deep’ person doesn’t mean everyone else must start there. Gauge where others are at and try to make a connection with them. Intensity which happens too quickly simply exhausts conversation and ultimately makes it unenjoyable. You must work your way there.
5) Respect space
Be alert & sense when you’re invading someone else’s personal space. But be sure not to be too distant either. Conversation is an art that needs strong self awareness and a profound understanding of context. Remember, it’s an art.
6) Be humble
Name dropping and self promotion are deeply unimpressive, especially for high calibre people. Be far more concerned about showing interest in what others do than in mentioning your own achievements. Humility is an underrated characteristic.
7) Stay positive
The best conversations are created by what you’re for, not against. So create good vibes. It’s how you’ll get the best out of others. Negativity & gossip might be great short term tittle tattle, but in the long term they create suspicion & distrust. Set the right tone…and watch what happens.
Conversation is an art which needs to be lovingly crafted. Make it your ambition to get better and better.
There’s a fascinating story in Luke 24 about two men walking along the road to Emmaus (near Jerusalem). The vibe of their conversation was downbeat and melancholic, reeling from the bitter disappointment of Jesus death a few days earlier. Their hopes had been dashed since the one in whom they’d rooted their trust was no longer with them. Devastating stuff.
Meanwhile, a third man who joined them on the journey seemed strangely oblivious to recent events. As they offered him explanation regarding the tragedy of what had just occurred, they were so lost in the fog of confused perspective that they failed to recognise the identity of the person in their company. It was Jesus himself….right there with them, listening to them, walking with them through their pain.
The two men on the road to Emmaus are like a lot of people today…living on the right side of the resurrection but settling on the wrong side of a revelation. Sometimes, our ponderings and wonderings can be so slanted by the bias of our own subjectivity that we completely miss the reality of what God has actually accomplished. Little did the two men know that while they were wallowing in pitiful dispair, Jesus had just been through hell for them…literally. You see, there’s always more going on than meets the eye.
Disappointment happens to all of us. However, it’s always a mistake to camp in the valley of hurt. God intends for us to pass through it, not live there. Making pain our identity is merely surrendering to earth’s facts without submitting to heaven’s truth. As followers of Jesus, we are to keep trusting through the challenges of our pilgrimage. God doesn’t always owe us explanations for the more challenging paths we tread. Wise people settle this in their hearts…and dare to keep following.
When your heart feels conflicted by hurt, be kind to yourself and avoid the pitfalls of unnecessary guilt and overanalyses. Sure, it’s good to reflect. However, allow your reflection to be shaped by revelation, the reality of a God who has experienced his own wounds, who feels your pain and whose heart toward you is pure and unadulterated. When you know deep down that you are deeply loved, there’s powerful healing in this truth that can overcome any hurt. Surely this explains Isaiah 53:5… ‘by his wounds, we are healed.‘
In the insanely fast pace of our crazy world, wise people understand that real friendships can’t be rushed. They take time to cultivate and develop. I’m personally grateful for people in my life who I’ve had the honour calling friends for many years. These friendships are like a fine wine that just keeps getting better as time goes on. The thing about true relationships is that they stand the test of time. At the heart of them is faithfulness, loyalty, understanding and trust…characteristics which are proven over years.
In the world of instant messaging and social media, there are some pitfalls that wise people will want to avoid. One of them is the danger of developing fake friendships. These are always rushed, are extremely fickle and they never last. Here are five fake ‘friendships’ to watch out for:
1) NETWORKING FRIENDSHIPS
These aren’t genuine friendships. They’re merely associations. These ‘friendships’ are built on what someone else can get out of you, what doors you can open for them and what opportunities you might create that will better their life. Problem is, they are fickle. When opportunity ends, so does the ‘friendship’. That’s because it was never a real friendship in the first place. It was a relationship of convenience. See it for what it is…and manage it appropriately. But whatever you do, never believe it’s your friend.
2) SYMPATHY FRIENDSHIPS
These ‘friends’ come alive when you’re going through a crisis. That’s because your crisis makes them feel better about themselves. They love giving sympathy because this takes their attention away from their own misery. It may feel good to have ‘friends’ like this around you when you’re going through tough times, but when things get good again, watch what happens. Notice how they’re never happy for you when your life seems to be going well. That’s because their power over you is gone…at least until your next crisis comes along. Nah, you don’t need friends like this.
3) HIGH MAINTENANCE FRIENDSHIPS
These are 24/7 crisis ‘friendships’ which drain your energy and draw you into a complex world of toxicity that is far beyond your expertise. While it’s always good to want to help people, questions should be asked when your desire to help someone is greater than their desire to be helped. The direction of travel in high maintenance friendships is always one way…the wrong way. Whatever you do, avoid ‘Fake Street’. It’s a dead end.
4) MANIPULATIVE FRIENDSHIPS
These ‘friendships’ are as unpredictable as the British weather. One day, they’re filled with the sweetness of joy and laughter. The next, they’re soured with awkward silences, mood swings and temper tantrums. Too often, we make excuses for this kind of dreadful behaviour. But here’s the truth…are you ready? You don’t need ‘friendships’ like this in your life. They’re manipulative, uncaring, selfish and can become hugely damaging to your life and others too. Love the person…but stop tolerating manipulative behaviour.
5) GOSSIPY FRIENDSHIPS
Remember, the person who gossips to you will eventually gossip about you. The problem with gossipy friendships is that they search for the negative and thrive off the salacious. These friendships are fake because they carp and snipe about others but never deal with the REAL issues of their own heart…like jealousy & insecurity. As followers of Jesus, these kind of ‘friendships’ are no reflection of the one we follow and do nothing for our faith in him either. Gossip creates toxic culture which brings out the worst in other people. Wise people are quick to understand this.
Real friendships take time. If you want authentic friends, be an authentic friend. If you want great friends, be a great friend. If you want faithful friends, be a faithful, loyal friend. In the end, we always ending up getting what we attract.
Proverbs 23:23 says ‘Buy the truth and do not sell it‘. Interestingly, the type of truth being referred to here is not doctrinal accuracy (important as that is) but rather integrity of character. It’s easy to be a person of principle when it’s convenient and popular. But what about when it’s not? Our response in times like this reveals much about our heart, our character, our convictions and the extent to which we truly believe in what’s right.
Sometimes, integrity means you have to stand up for what’s true and pay a price for it. This can involve being misunderstood or even the loss of a friendship. If you’ve ever experienced this, you’ll know only too well just how painful it can be. But no-matter what, truth is no respecter of persons. It would be disingenuous to compromise what’s right in order to accommodate and even defend what’s wrong, especially when it involves a toxic behaviour that has the potential to do damage to others. Where would the love and principle be in that?
As local church pastors, Lydia & I know something about this cost. There have been times in our own leadership when we’ve seen the harm of certain behaviours toward others and have had to graciously confront them, engaging in challenging conversations. Sometimes these have been received humbly with understanding of heart and motive. However, other times they’ve not gone so well and the result has been anger, bitterness and even hatred. Yes, church leadership is tough – and anyone who ever says it’s not has clearly never felt the weight of real leadership. But in the end, what’s important is to act with grace and integrity. We love our church community and as shepherds, we’ll always pay the price in order to protect what’s right. It’s what shepherd’s do.
Question is…when it comes to integrity, what price are you willing to pay? Proverbs 23:23 encourages us to ‘buy’ the truth. Then when you’ve bought it, don’t sell it. It’s too valuable for that.
If I could offer you a piece of advice as we enter 2017, it would be this; whatever happens this year, don’t be THAT person who makes too many drama’s out of life. It’s easy to do it, especially on social media. However as much as they might provide some short term distraction from the real issues of the heart, ultimately they undermine trust, especially in the moment when you genuinely need it. They also create mountains out of molehills, exaggerating problems so much that they end up forming your identity, trapping you in a facade which eventually takes it’s toll.
There are three key components to a drama:
The Villain – this is the individual who is responsible for causing the ‘problem’.
The Victim – this is the person who has been hard done by – innocent, saintly, blameless.
The Vendetta – this is the bit where twists & turns develop, conspiracy theories are formed and conclusions are drawn about ‘why’ so many people have it in for you.
Ok…now let’s leave the drama and just be real. This stuff is great for the stage but life is just not like that.
Making major drama’s out of your dilemma’s – that’s unhelpful. Turning every person you disagree with into a villain – that’s unfair. Claiming victimhood in every challenge you face – that’s unwise. Forming conspiracy theories about why you feel the way you do – that’s unfounded.
The art of doing life as a believer in Jesus is to navigate it’s challenges with grit & grace. Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Sometimes, tough things happen which are unjust and unfair. God never guaranteed an easy journey. But he does promise to be with us. That’s all we really need to know. It’s this quiet confidence that will sustain you through every challenge. Leave the drama’s to the stage.
Ten years ago, I wrote a book called ‘In Pursuit of the Miraculous’. I reckon I could write a follow up based on the past two weeks alone! It has been nothing short of miraculous. It all started when my wife Lydia gave birth to our beautiful baby daughter Sophia Hope at 11:27am on a […]
We’re all prone to wandering from God. It’s not for no reason that Isaiah describes us as being ‘like sheep who have gone astray’. Sure, sometimes our relationship with God is fresh and fervent. But if we’re honest, it’s not always like that. Complacency can so easily set into our lives. We get distracted from what […]
Have you noticed that the fear industry is booming at the moment? These are good days for things like suspicion, cynicism and gloom. They prey on people’s worst instincts, creating an atmosphere that is thick with the toxicity of distrust. It’s contagion blows into key aspects of society including politics, media and education, and it spreads confusion over a hurting nation. Church is not exempt from […]
Our heart at the Junction Church in Leicester & Loughborough is to create a community where great friendships are formed and people do life together. Somebody once said, ‘show me your friends and I’ll show you your future’. Truth is, life is all about how you interact with the people in your world. Healthy relationships are a rich blessing in whatever season you’re going through. So what are the factors that help create them? Here are ten which I think are really important:
There’s a proverb which says ‘laughter is like medicine to the soul‘. Laughing breaks down barriers, helps put life in perspective, lifts hearts and keeps you sane. It’s a vital ingredient for any healthy relationship.
2) LOW MAINTENANCE
High maintenance relationships are an emotional drain which eventually become a hindrance rather than a help. Healthy relationships are always aided by reasonable & well managed expectations. Read a blog I’ve written on this HERE.
Relationships which are forced rarely last. So chill out and stop trying to MAKE them happen. When unnecessary pressure is removed, that’s when relationships can thrive.
Healthy relationships are bathed in honour. They celebrate each other and never jump on each other’s weaknesses.
A wealthy friend of mine has lots of people who want to be his friend because of what they might get out of him. But nothing does more damage to a relationship than a selfish agenda. People WILL eventually see through it! Healthy relationships are selfless – more about giving than taking.
John Ortberg wrote ‘Everybody’s normal till you get to know them’. Healthy relationships are created by remaining loyal through the quirks, blunders and mistakes of the other person.
Spend enough time with someone and eventually you’ll find something about that person which gets on your nerves! But patience really is the virtue of a healthy relationship. Grace covers all the flaws, yours too!
A common purpose forges people together. That’s why church is really great for creating healthy relationships. Here, we live for a cause that is bigger than ourselves.
Nobody is THAT good all the time. Everyone has weaknesses, pain & challenging stuff they’re journeying through in life. A healthy relationship doesn’t pretend like everything’s always ok. It’s vulnerable about the tough stuff too, but not in a whining, whinging, nauseating kind of way.
A healthy relationship will always draw you closer to God and HIS house, not away from them. No-matter what is happening in life, there’s a vibe of faith in a healthy relationship which always believes for the BEST.